Donald Trump campaigns for the Presidency in Fountain Hills, Arizona, in 2016. Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore & Wikimedia Commons.
by Cecilia Cantu, COLUMNIST
12 November 2018
You see them everywhere.
They make up the sea of red baseball caps at every Trump rally. They are the words that echo the walls of each of his speeches. The slogan that carried a businessman to the oval office.
Make America Great Again.
But one must wonder–when was America great? To what era do these words refer? When in American history can we proudly proclaim that Americans were a great, positive force in the world? The answer is never. Americans have latched onto the idea that their country is the best nation in the world, that America is a role model for others across the globe. In reality, America is a nation formed by the genocide of an entire people, built on the enslavement of another, and then written to benefit the people behind it all. America was the first nation in the modern world to establish individual freedom and universal human rights, however, these are just words. Words proclaimed by generations of murderers, thieves, rapists, and torturers. But of course, it is more comfortable for Americans to pretend that this is not their history, and they’d rather glorify their lies than face their truth.
Every year students in America learn about the Holocaust. Every year American students are told about the 6 million lives that were taken by genocide in Europe during World War 2 and how America valiantly swooped in to save the day. They speak of how horrible genocide is, and how true Americans could not stand by while innocents were being slaughtered. What they decline to ever teach, however, are of the 18 million innocent people murdered on American soil.
That’s right–18 million Native Americans were brutally enslaved or killed in the name of “civilization.” Complete societies wiped out over several years. Histories, languages, and religions lost to the sands of time. These people faced cruel and inhumane treatment that no human should ever have to endure. Before they were killed, many of them were forced to witness the downfall of their world. The near extinction of their sacred animals, the loss of their religion through conversion, the destruction of their land, and robbery of everything that defined their culture.
Yet Americans are too ashamed to ever recognize the sins of their past. Yes, even today the remaining natives are confined to deplorable reservations. These allotments of land are, according to the Gallup Independent, “comparable to third world countries.” A 2008 census report reveals that nearly a third of all natives are currently living below the poverty line, 40% live in inadequate housing, are 51% more likely to suffer substance abuse, and are half as likely to earn a degree as a non-native. To this day America continues to oppress and steal from the native peoples, the rightful owners of this land. Rather than be compensated for their losses, Native Americans have been objectified and sexualized by modern America. They’ve become mascots for teams and products, degraded into caricatures. The modern Native American has been utterly silenced. To this day, every single non-native benefit from their suffering and from a bloody beginning to America and continues to support a system that refuses to make these wrongs right.
Oh, and going back to the Holocaust. Many Americans refuse to acknowledge it, but America was perfectly content in sitting comfortably on their side of the Atlantic while it happened. Franklin D. Roosevelt declared neutrality in 1939 and asked that every American do the same. Americans were told to sit by after already millions of people were murdered because of their religion, a central American value. Americans were well prepared to discard their values if it meant self-preservation. The only reason America became involved at all was because Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. Rather than responding reasonably, America imprisoned every Japanese-American citizen and bombed Japan with force unlike any ever witnessed before, costing roughly 200,000 innocent lives. Americans love to pride themselves on carrying the world to freedom, World War 2 being one of their favorite examples; when in fact this is just another example of glorified lies.
The building of America
When you think about the founding of America, what do you think? The most common answers are names such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams. In reality, it was the 10 million slaves who were kidnapped from Africa and forced into labor between the 16th and 19th Century. They were the ones who built America with their bare hands.
These people were ripped from their families and their lives and dehumanized to the extreme. Subjected to extreme physical and psychological torment for centuries, slaves in early America are a prime example of the total disregard for human life Americans held. After the decimation of the native population, the colonizers had to find a labor source that would build their fancy homes on their new land. Structures that are now famous symbols of freedom and prosperity such as the White House, Capitol building, and Wall Street were in fact built by enslaved hands. Such a fitting symbol for the entire United States’ hypocritical history.
One may argue that slavery is over, that America has granted everyone equal rights no matter their race. While legislatively that may be true, one would be ignorant to turn a blind eye to the scars and still hurting wounds slavery has left behind. Thanks to these centuries of backward thinking, the oppression of black people in America today continues on. The unjust levels of incarceration and murder only prove it. Even when movements such as “Black Lives Matter” attempt to shed light on the issues at hand, they are quieted with counter-protests like “All Lives Matter.” America today still favors the white man and does everything in its power to keep it that way.
All men are not created equal
America is full of hypocrisy and one of the most famous examples lies in the very document that began America: the Declaration of Independence. The statement “all men are created equal” was written as one of the defining ideas of America, yet it was written by one of the most notorious slave owners at the time. A man who saw a black person as ⅗ of a human. This obvious theme continues throughout the entire history of America. Black people being kept in chains until 1865. Women were not given a political voice until 1920. Natives not given citizenship on their own land until 1924. Japanese families being kept in camps in the 1940’s. Segregation continuing until the 1960’s. LGBT people not allowed to marry until 2015. Families being separated and caged and denied medical treatment like animals in 2018. In what “equal” country is it legal for a three-year-old toddler forced to testify for herself in a foreign court without an attorney, a translator, or a family? Any logical person would look at those red baseball hats and wonder, “When was America great?”
The answer instead, may have to come from understanding the perspective of the man who first made this proclamation: Donald Trump. A straight, white, old man who comes from a wealthy family in New York. A man who has been raised in a world full of privilege of every kind and climbed the social ladder the same way he climbs into his private jet for a bi-weekly golf trip. Yes, a man who frequently refers to women as sexual objects, to people of color as animals, and to himself as above the law would have a different idea of what “great” means. In fact, a world in which women are forced into a tight societal role and robbed of any political say would sound great to a man like that. A world where people of color are seen as less than human and segregated into communities of lesser quality would sound great to a man like that. A country built on the systematic oppression of women, the LGBT community, people of color, the poor, and anyone else not fitting Thomas Jefferson’s definition of “men” would be great. To a man like Donald Trump, a country where he is able to marry as many porn stars and make as much money as possible would be great. It must be concluded that this is the definition of “great” this movement of people have gotten behind. In this context, then, America has always been great.
And yet, there is a new hope on the rise. It is harbored within the heart of the true America–the people. Those who are ridiculed, arrested, and beaten when they stand for their beliefs but stand strong. The hope lies in the members of the Sioux nation at Standing Rock. It lies in the NFL players who speak for those without a voice. It lies with the women who outnumbered the presidential inauguration in solidarity for women’s rights in the largest protest in US history. America was created for the people, by the people, and it’s future lies with the people. In a country whose people have been suppressed for too long, change is on the horizon. Change is imminent and inevitable. The recent election only proves it. According to a report by U.S. News, previous youth voter turnout was shattered November 6th–31% of eligible 18-29-year-olds cast their ballot, at least a 10% increase. The increase was not for nothing, either. The Democrats regained the House of Representatives for the first time in 23 years, the first openly gay governor was appointed, the first Native woman was placed in congress, the first Muslim refugee was elected to congress. Times may be rough. History may be shameful. Our nation may divided, and yet there still echoes in the hearts and minds of the true Americans the belief in equality and freedom for all.
Cecilia Cantu is a columnist for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the Howl.